Sunday, June 22, 2008

Print and Pattern

As we’ve noted before, the eco-friendly clothing available today is a lot more dynamic than the brown drawstring pants and tunics of past decades. Fabrics with pattern, texture, and color now play a much bigger role in drawing attention to sustainable fashion labels. At the same time, advances in eco-friendly inks and dyes are making it easier for brands to create high-quality textiles with better market appeal. Let’s take a look at some designers whose work is paving the way in eco-friendly printing.

Passenger Pigeon print, S/S 2008

Vancouver-based brand Passenger Pigeon makes garments and accessories featuring exclusive printed fabrics. Owners Heather Schibli and Wendy Traas have created detailed, eye-catching prints with an underlying theme of ecology. Their 2008 collection features a print with bikes, as well as one with plastic bags tangled in branches. The soft, neutrally -colored organic cotton and hemp fabrics help to make the patterns pop.

Mociun print, F/W 2007

Fans of modern, unique prints are also flocking to Caitlin Mociun’s eponymous label. Mociun creates collections that mix modern geometric styles with collage-like line drawings and draw influence from diverse areas including outsider art, Russian constructivism, and pop culture. Though she used to print all of her own textiles in her Brooklyn studio, Mociun has turned to a local printer to assist with her increasingly large orders. She notes that there is no completely clean way to print, but using water-based inks and low-impact dyes and finishes are a great improvement to the traditional production process. Her close relationship with the printers ensures both quality products and conscious production practices.

Emerging brands like Passenger Pigeon and Mociun can scale their printing needs in response to market trends, which is a distinct advantage in the ever-changing fashion industry. In-house work can also save ink, as designers may choose to print in smaller batches or on an as-needed basis. Contracted textile printers often require a minimum purchase order that may be too expensive for small-scale designers. By keeping their stock low, these brands can adapt to the latest trends and technological advances in low-impact inks and dyes. However, printing is time-consuming and requires a fair amount of space for production of yardage. Where can designers find great printed yardage?

Harmony Art, 2008, courtesy of Near Sea Naturals

Harmony Susalla, owner of Harmony Art, designs textiles especially for the eco-conscious market. Her patterns range from geometric and floral to text-based styles, and all are printed on organic cotton using water-based inks and low-impact dyes. Harmony Art textiles are snapped up by crafters via distributors like Near Sea Naturals or by independent businesses such as Look Organics.

Look Organics dress, 2008

Josie Jesser, owner of Look Organics, uses the prints for her collection of children’s apparel. She strongly believes in providing colorful and interesting organic clothing to the market, and hopes to eventually expand her range of prints. It is much easier for small and medium-sized businesses to use preprinted textiles, as they can easily obtain high-quality prints in fashion-forward colors. Furthermore, the time and space needed to print unique textiles is not cost-effective for everyone.

As the market for eco-friendly textiles continues to expand, we hope to see more printers embracing water-based inks and low-impact dyes in their work. If you know of any exceptional printers using these materials, please let us know in the comments section below!

Sunday, June 1, 2008

A Greener Fleece

Wool is a naturally renewable resource, and with proper care garments can last for many years. It has remained a popular choice because of its warmth, softness, water-resistance, and overall durability. For those who think wool only comes in a scratchy and bulky form, think again – the softest pashmina scarves and most luxurious cashmere sweaters are also made from varieties of this fiber. New and innovative approaches are emerging within woolen textiles, including organic alternatives, recycled and blended fibers. Below are some brands whose work exemplifies the shift towards a greener wool industry.

Delano Collection coat, organic wool

New York-based Delano Collection uses organic wool for its popular classically styled coat. The chic silhouette lends itself to many seasons, ensuring the coat a long and useful life. Like organic cotton, the wool industry has created guidelines to ensure farmers use certain methods for farming their sheep. For example, sheep cannot be dipped in pesticides, as is commonly practiced in conventional farming. Additionally, the sheep graze on open farmland that has not been sprayed with synthetic pesticides. Groups like the Organic Trade Association promote alternative approaches to farming, and provide ideas for breeding healthier sheep. Like organic cotton, organic wool is especially recommended for people with chemical sensitivities. Some designers use only natural wool colors, which can range from creamy white to chocolate brown and charcoal gray. These naturally colored fibers save water and keep dyes and finishing chemicals out of the production cycle.

Many companies choose to work with branded labels like the Vermont Organic Fiber Company, suppliers of O-Wool. The company’s strict guidelines ensure designers a high-quality product in a variety of styles and colors, and their certification mark acts as an added value on labels for the finished garments. Since O-Wool maintains all properties of conventional wool, it has the potential to entirely change the farming industry. However, cost of production is still high due to the small market. Like the organic food market, organic fibers are slowly gaining ground – and as demand increases, farmers will make more of an effort to switch to organic– availability in these markets relies largely on the demand of the consumers.

Avita jumper, pre-consumer recycled cashmere

Avita, a Los Angeles-based brand, takes a different approach to wool by recycling pre-consumer cashmere to create modern street wear for young, trend-conscious customers. Owner and designer Amanda Shi learned early on about cashmere’s production cycle; her parents own a knitwear manufacturing company in China. After observing how much fiber waste is often discarded in the manufacture of cashmere, Amanda devised a way to salvage the extra material. She has reduced the family factory’s environmental impact while also producing quality goods.The resulting recycled cashmere is less expensive, soft and luxurious, and preserves natural resources.
Viridis Luxe sweater coat, hemp and cashmere

Viridis Luxe has also embraced cashmere, blending it with hemp fibers for a series of eco-conscious knitwear. Designer Hala Bahmet engineers elegant sweaters to help promote hemp’s many benefits, such as ease of care and durability. The sweaters are incredibly soft and give hemp a new look. These clothes are great for everyday wear and bring alternative fibers into the mainstream sportswear market where they can establish a lasting presence.